According to Don Byron, clarinetist par excellence, the title of this article is how he proposed that the audience listen to the music created by his group at the Iron Horse in Northampton, last Friday night. The group consisted of Byron on clarinet, James Zollar, trumpet, Edsel Gomez, piano, Ben Whitman, drums, Leo Traversa, bass and Milton Cardona, congas. There were only three numbers in one set lasting two hours.
Byron dominated this gig. His playing is complex: he doubles and triple plays notes on his horn. A series of notes can be singled out and bright. If he chooses he can roll phrases repeatedly into single notes and back again into repeated phrases lending characteristics to each motif that is totally identifiable with Byron. There is always the measure of the performer just doing the number and going no further than he has to. But with Byron, the variations that he easily configured over the heaviness of the rhythmic backdrop were pretty remarkable.
The addition of the Latin beat base from Cardona allowed the total sound to expand and allow for more improvisational diversion. Trumpeter Zollar took advantage of the backdrop of the pulse, as did Gomez on piano. The drums and the electric bass guitar supplied depth and constancy to the group. They behaved as the shadow of the front line. The intensity of the tunes were the light.
Byron's solos were directed, focused and true to form in relation to the intelligence of the music he writes, the basis for which has to do with making statements about the status of race, class, societal orientations. Sometimes Byron's fingers would flutter like butterfly wings in the center of the horn and at others, each finger played distinctly and with intention, the pace slower, the color more tender or strident or sour, the notes prolonged, stretched, exuberant.
Gomez flew off on the piano at one point; he rose from the bench as his hands moved from the center of the keyboard outward to either end creating wide choral structure in keeping with the texture of the music. He finally came to rest in the middle not releasing the tension he managed to form with his choral landings.
Cardona as well demonstrated his ardent versatility changing the tones on the conga through the method he used to hit them: with his fingers tapping, his fists pounding, his elbow damping, his hands moving from one drumskin to another with ease. His capacity to blend and weave through this music embellished it and made me wonder why he is not always a part of it because the texture fit so well.
As a whole, the shape Byron sculpted, not only on his own instrument, but also in his compositions, was multiplicitous and heavily integrated with a variety of sounds (not to ignore the cymbals, the cowbell, the snare and the deep roundness of the bass provided by Whitman and Traversa). As a result, the music was bountiful and highly explorational. Byron has a lot to say and ways in which he can say it. (I even heard "The Shadow of Your Smile" snuck into the second piece which was introduced as having been triggered by the nature of the issues surrounding Rodney King.) And, in the encore, I heard completely thorough instrumental overlaying and richness. Byron's got bravura; he's got energy and sheer guts.